Parents should have the power of more choices

Senator Matt Pouliot delivers this week’s Republican Weekly Radio Address

By Sen. Matt Pouliot

Senator Matt Pouliot

AUGUSTA – This week is National School Choice Week, where events across the country help bring awareness to the concept of parents’ right to choose where their children attend school and, most importantly, what they are taught. Now in its 10th year since signed into law in June 2011, charter schools in Maine have been an important option for parents and it’s time to move these schools forward.

Hello, I’m Senator Matt Pouliot of Kennebec County and the Senate Assistant Republican Leader, and it’s my pleasure to join you for this week’s Weekly Republican Radio Address.

School Choice Week is dedicated to not only the choice of traditional public schools, but also charter, magnet, private, religious and online schools, and even homeschooling. And you may be surprised that school choice in Maine isn’t new – it’s a well-established institution as many towns and districts without high schools have given parents the choice of where to send their children for decades. Charter schools are the youngest choice of them all.

The first charter school in Maine was the Maine Academy of Natural Sciences, which opened in 2011 soon after the law was enacted. The latest, the Ecology Learning Center, began operations in 2020. Now serving over 2,660 students across 10 charter schools in Maine, the concept has given parents another alternative of where to send their kids along with the various private, religious and public schools within their proximity.

The distinct differences with charter schools are their independence, the students they serve, and the approaches these schools take in teaching them. Charters often serve students who may not thrive in a traditional school environment, and they offer specialized curriculums centered on specific subjects like performing arts or science.

While many critics initially believed these schools were a threat to public school funding – although they are public schools themselves – the state belayed those concerns when funding was changed in 2015 by the Legislature to a statewide model. In doing so, no particular school district was in jeopardy of losing too much funding to a nearby charter school.

But the growth of these mission-based schools has hit an impasse, largely due to the indefinite 10-school limit put in place in 2019 by Maine’s Legislature when they removed the limit’s sunset amid the pandemic. Maine’s governor let the law go into effect without her signature, despite the Maine Department of Education’s call for an independent review a full two years before the end of the 10-year transition period of how the schools were impacting Maine’s scholastic landscape. Unfortunately, the review didn’t happen.

Since then, I’ve even authored several bills myself to try to remove the cap – they didn’t garner enough support from Democrats to pass.

So where do we go from here? There’s been a lot of discussion both in Maine and nationally about what role parents have in the education of their children. From rogue school boards shutting down parents’ voices and rebuffing their rights regarding policies to teachers trying to introduce highly-questionable pedagogy and curriculum into the classroom, there’s ample evidence that school boards need accountability to their communities, and funding and headcounts are two obvious ways of doing that if parents have alternatives.

Yet that is exactly what seems to concern some Maine school boards, so much so that one school board in Hancock had a lawsuit filed against them in order to simply allow parents the opportunity to voice their concerns.

School choice has been a Maine tradition for a long time, and charter schools have become one of the latest options available to parents. It’s time we continue moving forward to the next phase in growing alternatives for parents to choose from.

With choice comes power, and parents should have that power – it’s what being a parent is all about. Again, I’m Senator Matt Pouliot of Kennebec County and I hope you have a great weekend.

Senator Matt Pouliot represents Maine Senate District 15 and is the Assistant Senate Republican Leader, a member the Legislative Council and Senate Republican Lead for the Legislature’s Taxation Committee.

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